December 13, 2023

How to Start the Probate Process

The loss of a loved one is a difficult and emotional time. If you’ve been named the personal representative of your loved one’s estate, you’re now entrusted with the important responsibilities of managing their affairs, including the probate process. 

Getting Started with Probate

Probate is the legal process by which a deceased person’s assets are distributed to their heirs or beneficiaries. In this article, we’ll provide a guide on how to start the probate process as a personal representative (sometimes called an executor):

Obtain the Death Certificate

Your first step is obtaining the death certificate, as you’ll need this document to prove the testator’s death (i.e., the person who wrote the will). Typically, the funeral home will provide you with the death certificate, but you may need to request it from the state’s vital records office.

Locate the Will

The will should outline the deceased person’s wishes for the distribution of their assets. If you cannot locate this essential estate planning document, you will need to follow your state’s intestacy laws.

File the Will with the Probate Court

Once you have located the will, you will need to file it with the probate court in the county where the deceased person lived. Further, you’ll need to file a petition for probate and provide the court with a copy of the death certificate. 

Following a probate hearing, the court will then appoint you as the personal representative.

How Long Do You Have to File a Probate after Death?

The deadline for filing a probate can vary by state, so it’s important to check your local laws. In some states, there may be a deadline of anywhere from a few months to several years after the person’s death. In Minnesota, for example, you must initiate probate proceedings within three (3) years of the deceased’s death. 

However, it’s generally recommended to start the probate process as soon as possible to ensure that the estate is properly managed and the deceased person’s wishes are fulfilled.

Notify Creditors and Beneficiaries

As the personal representative, it will be your responsibility to notify creditors and beneficiaries of the deceased person’s estate. You will need to publish a notice of the probate in the local newspaper and send notices to all known creditors and beneficiaries.

Inventory the Assets

You will also need to inventory the deceased person’s assets, including: 

  • Real estate
  • Personal property
  • Financial accounts

Additionally, you’ll need to determine the value of each asset and provide the court with an inventory.

Pay Debts and Taxes

Remember, part of this important role means that you will be responsible for paying any debts and taxes owed by the deceased person’s estate, including 

  • Outstanding bills
  • Taxes
  • Other debts

Distribute the Estate

Once all debts and taxes have been paid and the court has approved the inventory, you can distribute the assets of the estate according to the will or state law.

Support When You Need It

As you can see, the probate process can be lengthy and complex, but as the personal representative or executor of the estate, you’ve been entrusted with the important responsibility of managing your loved one’s affairs. 

By following these steps and working with an experienced probate attorney, you can ensure that the probate process is handled properly and that your loved one’s wishes are fulfilled.

For questions on how to start the probate process, request a free consultation. If you haven’t named a personal representative in your estate plan or would like assistance from one of our attorneys, please contact us today!

Man and woman looking over will of loved one to begin probate process.
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